If you hear myself, or any of my colleagues at Emergence, speak about athletes solving movement problems in sport, it’s likely that at some point you will hear us discuss a dexterous athlete “finding a functional (or behavioral) fit to the movement problem.”

For me, in particular, this is a very important concept as it stands at the center of the objectives in my personal work with athletes. By this, I feel as though what each athlete (NFL players in my case) is attempting to do within their craft, is to find (coordinate or organize, if you prefer) a highly connected and coupled behavioral fit with the problems in the environment – as I say, to become one with the problem.

Theoretically, this is what we feel dexterous movers in sport are doing – organizing a movement solution which functionally fits (and solves) the emergent problem at-hand. 

Why is this so important?

For starters, at a certain level, no two movement problems in sport are truly the same – thus, no two movement solutions will truly be the same either.

Athletes are required to interact with rich and meaningful information relevant to an emergent, alive movement problem, which will differ each time it is faced (sometimes these differences are subtle, sometimes they are significant).

Certainly, the emergence of the most effective movement solution will be largely dependent on the contextual situation at-hand.

Local movement problems in sport are often dynamic (i.e., constantly changing moment-to-moment) and can contain numerous/various opportunities for the individual athlete to organize a solution in an authentic and functional fashion (Note: functional = practical, useful, purposeful).

Thus, to solve problems in this inherently complex and often challenging environment, players will need to sensitively connect (i.e., detect and use) to relevant information to make decisions from (i.e., changing their intentions), and couple (i.e., coordinate and control) their movement actions in close relation to.

It’s here where the organization of the athlete’s movement behavior will meet and interact with the disposition of the peculiar problem (with all of its needs, challenges, and opportunities). 

Of course, this begins to highlight the importance of systems thinking and the ongoing relations between one’s self and their environment (hello, ecological dynamics framework!) – or, in other words, how context and content are constantly relating to (and perpetually feeding into) one another. 

In an ecological approach (which is the framework we adopt here at Emergence), the coordination of this functional/behavioral fit will be captured by an integrated movement solution which unfolds through the intertwined nature of perception, cognition, and action processes of the human movement system of the athlete.

In our ecological perspective, because of their tightly intertwined nature, perception, cognition, and action are NOT to be viewed as entirely separate processes. Instead, they should be considered different aspects of one integrated movement solution – or, slightly differing, yet highly related, accounts of the same unified and unbroken movement problem-solving process.

It’s through the continual, flexible adjustment of these human movement system processes (and their degrees of freedom), and constant circular causality contained within/between them, that gives the athlete the flexibility we desire to adjust behavior which is fit to the needs, challenges, and opportunities present within a wide range of contextual problems in sport.

Also, because of this interdependence, a change in the nuance of one process (such as what information a player is picking up and/or when they are picking it up), could equate to changes in another (such as within the action strategy employed), and the overall system-wide movement behavior.

This also means that the independent component elements of the human movement system (or any system for that matter), can fit together and operate in many different ways or configurations.

So, just how does an athlete coordinate the proper relations of his movement system, in terms of the intertwined processes of perception, cognition, and action, to the problems within the environment? Of course, the world is full of deep, rich, and meaningful information. More adept movers are in constant contact with this information, harnessing the more specifying sources (i.e. attunement), which will help inform them as to how it’s possible for them to move (and adapt). 

As we study the interactions between that individual’s subsystems and associated processes which underpin this integrated movement problem-solving process, we must determine: (a). If it’s a correct solution to meet the needs of the problem; (b). The level of functionality of the solution to the problem; (c). That these processes are emerging in a tightly coupled fashion.

These questions don’t necessarily have easy or simple answers.

However, one thing is clear: our investigations into the movement problem-solving process should extend beyond the motor system and look deeper into the relations and interactions between systems. Yes, this means we should keep our lens fixated upon the deeply interwoven relationship of perception, cognition, and action which forms the integrated movement solutions which emerge in functionally fit fashions. But, to do so, we must ensure that we do not study movement solutions independently from the problems within the sporting world.

On this note, we recently introduced a course geared towards assisting practitioners in tackling this endeavor more effectively. Entitled Skilled Movement Analysis, Tyler Yearby and I walk listeners through how to utilize film and video to gain a deeper understanding of the movement problem-solving processes of athletes and attempt to determine how functionally fit the movement solution coordinated may be the to the problems in one’s sport (along with numerous suggestions as to ways coaches can guide athletes to tightening their personal coupling even more!).

One more final NOTE: If this problem-solving paradigm is something that fascinates you as much as it does myself, I would also encourage you to check out one of our main course offerings, UNDERPINNINGSThis course took a deep dive discussion into movement problem-solving processes from the perspective of perception, cognition, and action, while covering any and everything related to an ecological dynamics framework. 

Shawn is the Co-Director of Education & Co-Founder of Emergence. He developed content for the educational brand, Movement Mastery, from 2014 till the formation of Emergence, with the sole purpose of helping to enable a deeper understanding of the processes involved in the acquisition of more masterful movement for athletes in sport. Shawn has served primarily as a Personal Performance Advisor & Movement Skill Acquisition Coach for National Football League (NFL) players since 2008, working with approximately 12 players each year.